(Previously Written By The Mirror, Reporter Ben Schleiger)
Students have settled into campus, the weather is cooling down and football season is upon us folks.
The University of Northern Colorado football team looks to start the season off right with a marquee matchup against 18th-ranked (FCS Coaches Poll) McNeese State at 2 p.m. Saturday September at Nottingham Field.
Last seasons 3-7 effort was seemingly tumultuous with injury after injury —19 starters in total were hurt at one point throughout the season, including now-four-year starting quarterback Jacob Knipp.
He, along with receiver Alex Wesley and tight end Theron Verna, look to change their luck this season on offense by putting up big numbers. The Bears averaged just under 28 points per game last season, compared to allowing over 34.
On the other side of the ball, defensive end Keifer Morris, linebacker Henry Stelzner, cornerback Marshaun Cameron and safety Sherand Boyd Jr. look to right the mistakes of last season by cutting that latter number significantly.
Handling the special teams duties will be kicker/linebacker Collin Root, kickoff specialist Marques Combs, punter/safety Keifer Glau and kick returner Jullen Ison.
Special teams could be a deciding factor in games this season, much like the walk-off field goal scored against Idaho State in Week 3 last season. Together, the Bears are optimistic this season will not just be a rebound year. They have their sights set on the playoffs.
What are the Bears Chances?
The 3-7 season was heavily influenced by the sheer number of injuries and players injured. Although McNeese was 9-2 in 2017, they did not make the FCS playoffs, partially due to the fact the Southland Conference is tabbed as just the sixth-toughest conference by analysts. The Bears play in the third toughest in the Big Sky.
What makes this season different?
Starting off with a healthy team is the first step to having a good season. The heavily injured Bears have recouped and revamped themselves this offseason.
One of the most notable differences will be on the defense since former Defensive Coordinator, Marty English returns to UNC as the Defensive Coordinator and linebackers coach.
The last time Marty English was on the coaching staff at UNC they won back-to-back Division II national titles. This alone won’t make the Bears playoff ready, but it should rejuvenate the defense.
What to expect when attending a UNC football game
There is pre-game tailgating, giveaways for students and fans, the Simba Cam, concession stands, great announcers, and the Pride of the Rockies Marching Band who are arguably the most enthusiastic fans on every down.
Players to Watch
The Mirror’s Keys to the Game
- Establish a run game: Trae Riek is UNC’s most experienced running back by far and will need to lead the young talent by setting an example of hard-nose running.
- Spread the ball around: UNC is fortunate to have many playmakers, but Alex Wesley may be covered often. Jacob Knipp will need to take advantage of the talent around him and look for his other wide recievers and tight ends.
- The Big Boys Up Front: This seems rather obvious, but Knipp has sustained two season ending injuries and the running back group has had many troubles getting going.
- Stop the run: Although McNeese State can pass, the Cowboys have been transitioning to a run-heavy offensive scheme. Corralling that running back group will slow the games tempo.
- Contain Ross Lawayne: He may be listed as a half back, but expect him to go out for passes early and often, especially to relieve pressure off quarterback James Tabary.
- Third down efficiency: The Bears must finish the job and stop McNeese State on third down. The Cowboys were top-three nationally in time of possession last season, so getting them off the field is key to keeping fresh for the fourth quarter.